4 ways to make your engineering team more productive

Improving the efficiency of your software engineering team has many advantages, prime among which is the ability to make up for problems in other areas.

Whether you’re facing budget constraints, having problems sourcing and retaining talent, or simply want to boost product iteration, focusing on increasing your engineering efficiencies will yield strong results for a long time to come.

Here are four ways to start optimizing your engineering resources:

Analyze your development workflow

CI/CD pipelines are generally slow and break often, leaving developers frustrated and looking for problems.

A recent report found that 47% of surveyed companies took days to deploy CI/CD pipelines, and only 10% could do it within minutes, which is what time-efficient pipelines should be able to do.

Focusing on increasing your engineering efficiencies will yield strong results for a long time to come.

Why is that important? Puppet found that high-performing IT teams – which could deploy and push code to production faster than their peers – experienced 60 times fewer failures, and recovered from them 168 times faster. It’s paramount to have in place tools that can help you analyze and fix your development workflow.

The first step is to map out all the steps of your CI/CD pipeline. Pipelines today are becoming increasingly complicated: unit tests, integration tests, security tests, compliance checks, load tests, and so on. There are countless ways things can slow down or break.

The second step is to put in place tools to monitor and analyze these pipelines. Datadog, Splunk, Athenian and open-source DevLake are some tools that can help get you there.

The third step is to spot what is broken and improve what is slow. What’s the PR cycle time? How often do you release? Are there specific parts of the pipeline that are problematic? These are the questions to ask, answer and act on to increase your shipping pipeline velocity.

Make your development environments reproducible

Reproducible development environments are slowly becoming an industry standard, but it can be difficult to make an existing environment replicable. Whether it’s to allow a new hire to push their first commit on day one or enable your engineering organization to have an identical development environment — replicability is critical.

Containers — democratized by Docker in the last decade — offer one way to reach reproducibility. But because their focus is on application portability, some argue that it’s not always the best approach for making development environments reproducible.

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Daily Crunch: Amazon will sunset Cloud Cam service in December, offers customers free Blink Mini

To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PDT, subscribe here.

Oh hey and happy Tuesday, the very last day of May 2022! Tomorrow, for our City Spotlight series, we’re putting the limelight on Columbus, Ohio. We’re also doing a pitch-off with Columbus-area startups. If you want to register for the event, here’s the handy linky-link that will give you all the info you need!  — Haje and Christine

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • Amazon retires Cloud Cam to the big electronic home in the sky: It was a Big Tech kind of day today, and first up is Amazon, which informed Cloud Cam users that it will no longer support the device. You might remember that Cloud Cam was one of Amazon’s first home security devices in 2017 — that is until it acquired both Ring and Blink within a year later. Amazon is winding down the service this year, and “Cloud Cammers” will get a complimentary Blink mini and a one-year subscription for their troubles.
  • Apple’s iOS 16 leak: Our other Big Tech story involves some Apple news ahead of its WWDC event on June 6. Not sure how much people think about their iPhone’s lockscreen, but Apple does, and a report says the tech giant is about to unleash a significant upgrade that may involve widgets. And Sarah hopes Apple also does something about Focus Mode.
  • Crypto may have a remittance payment problem: Could there be a disconnect between Andreessen Horowitz’s views about cryptocurrency’s current usefulness and the low-tech way people still get paid in emerging countries? Anna lays out her argument for why a16z’s crypto bullishness may be a bit premature in these regions.  

Startups and VC

Two new funds got announced this morning; Haje covered Hannah Grey’s $52 million debut fund, focusing on customer-centric founders, and Christine took a look at Bonfire Ventures, which raised a pair of funds, totaling $230 million, targeting B2B software startups. 

Apart from a couple of new funds, it’s been a lively few days on the site over the long weekend, so let’s make like a truffle-hunting pig and dig our snouts in: 

Salesforce Sales Jump 24%

The better-than-expected fiscal first-quarter results eased concerns about demand for its business software. …read more


Ultima Genomics claims $100 full genome sequencing after stealth $600M raise

Diagram of the UG 100's open water process, with an image of the wafer's micropatterned surface.

The appetite for genomic data continues to rise in the field of biotech and pharmaceutical research, but cost is still a factor even sequencing a full genome now costs as little as $1,000. But with claims of reducing that cost by another order of magnitude to $100, Ultima Genomics may even further accelerate this economy.

Ultima says that its sequencing machine and software platform, the UG 100, can perform a complete sequencing of a human genome in about 20 hours, with precision comparable to existing options, but does so at a far lower cost per “gigabase,” which is to say per million base pairs of DNA analyzed.

The technical advances may not be entirely intelligible to people who are not already familiar with how DNA is sequenced, and not being an expert myself I won’t attempt a full explanation. But it helps to understand that essentially the DNA, amplified in a reagent (so basically a lot of the same DNA in a solution), is passed through small channels where fragments bind to certain microscopic mechanisms, which prepare it to be imaged by a lot of base detectors operating in parallel. These sequences are then reassembled into the whole genome by matching their ends together.

Ultima’s claimed advance is threefold. First, rather than having the reagent travel down fluidic channels that must be flushed afterwards in preparation for the next step, the micromachinery (“a dense array of electrostatic landing pads”) is etched onto a 200mm silicon wafer. This well known process uses cheap, readily available stock and can be mass manufactured.

But more importantly, it enables the reagent to be simply deposited in the center of the wafer, which spins to distribute it evenly across its entire surface using centrifugal force. This is efficient, mechanically simple, and allows the resulting sequences to be read “during rotation of the wafer in a continuous process, analogous to reading a compact disc.”

Diagram of the UG 100’s open water process, with an image of the wafer’s micropatterned surface.

The second advance is a little more arcane, having to do with the process of preparing and directly reading the DNA — rather than replacing the bases with more machine-readable ones or relying on dicey particle-level imagery, a clever combination of the two is struck. It’s less destructive to the original strands but also doesn’t require error-prone measurements like individual photon counts.

The third advance involves machine learning to accelerate the process of turning optical data (the CD-style scanning signal) into usable data. A deep convolutional neural network trained on multiple genomes and fragments is tuned based on a sample from the genome being sequenced, then set to work verifying and assembling all the tiny pieces of data into the whole genome. This process speeds things up and eliminates error.

There is considerable margin for improvement on the process, primarily in the size and density of the wafer and its surface, leading to improved throughput. This could push the price lower, but for now a 90% reduction is more than …read more


Supreme Court Gives Tech Industry Reprieve From Texas Social-Media Law

The justices blocked Texas from immediately enforcing the new law that aims to prohibit large social-media platforms from suppressing users’ posts based on the content of their speech. …read more


Cydia’s antitrust case against Apple is allowed to proceed, judge rules

A federal antitrust lawsuit over the long-shuttered alternative app store called Cydia has now been given the green light to proceed, after its initial complaint was dismissed. The Cydia app store, which once featured apps and other tweaks that weren’t permitted by Apple’s official App Store policies, is suing Apple over its alleged unlawful monopoly over iOS app distribution — a monopoly that contributed to the end of Cydia’s business, it says.

The plaintiff, SaurikIT LLC, maker of the rival app store, originally filed its legal challenge back in 2020, but U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers — the same judge who recently issued the Apple-Epic ruling now under appeal — granted Apple’s motion to dismiss the first complaint on the grounds that its claims were outside the statute of limitations. But the judge allowed Cydia to amend its complaint, which was filed in Jan. 2022.

That new complaint is now moving forward, as Judge Gonzalez Rogers has rejected Apple’s motion to dismiss it. Apple had again argued Cydia’s allegations fell outside the four-year window allowed under federal antitrust law, reported Reuters, which first noted the lawsuit’s update this past Friday.

In Cydia’s amended complaint, it says Apple more recently implemented design changes that prevented iOS app distributors from being able to provide apps that were usable on iOS devices. These changes were rolled out from 2018 to 2021, the complaint states, which brings the legal challenge into the permitted time frame for an antitrust argument.

More specifically, the complaint cites 2018 and 2019 technical restrictions like runtime code modification prevention, pointer authentication, physical map codesigning, memory tagging extensions, and other control mechanisms designed to target Cydia and other alternative app stores from delivering functional apps. It also references Apple’s contractual restrictions which prevent developers from using alternative payment mechanisms. And it points out that Apple’s numerous restrictions have impacts on other app stores besides itself, like the newer AltStore.

“…[the] plaintiff has plausibly alleged that Apple engaged in changes in its technological updates, which occurred within the four years preceding the filing of the lawsuit,” Gonzalez Rogers wrote in the new filing. “Accordingly, to the extent plaintiff’s claims rely on Apple’s technological updates to exclude Cydia from being able to operate altogether, those claims are timely,” the decision read.

Cydia is ultimately looking to recoup damages and injunctive relief and wants to move towards a trial by jury. Apple has been given 21 days to respond to the amended complaint.

While Apple continues to battle with iOS developers on other fronts, including with the ongoing Epic appeal, the Cydia lawsuit is particularly interesting because it’s focused on whether third-party app stores have a legal right to exist and do business. Cydia is arguing they do, pointing to the decisions made by the U.S. Copyright Office which declared iPhone jailbreaking legal in 2010. Because Apple lost the case to make jailbreaking illegal, it instead moved to make jailbreaking an impossibility through both technical and contractual means, Cydia is arguing.

It’s …read more


Is data observability recession-proof?

Following its $135 million Series D last week, Monte Carlo became the latest unicorn in a fast-rising category: data observability, which the startup defines as “an end-to-end approach to enable teams to deliver more reliable and trustworthy data.”

If you are wondering how serious data quality issues are, Monte Carlo CEO Barr Moses has an answer: “Data quality issues still plague even the most data-driven companies. Just a few weeks ago, Unity, the popular gaming software company, cited ‘bad data’ for a $110 million impact on their ads business.”

Moses’ startup isn’t the only one to go after the data observability market opportunity. On the same day that Monte Carlo disclosed its newly minted $1.6 million valuation, competitor Cribl confirmed its unicorn status with a new round of funding.

“While smaller than Cribl’s Series C, which came close to eclipsing $200 million, the Series D values the company at $2.5 billion post-money, according to a source. That’s up from $1.5 billion as of August 2021,” TechCrunch’s Kyle Wiggers noted.

Any three-digit deal would be noteworthy in isolation. Two of them in the same space, even more so. But what really caught our attention is that Monte Carlo’s and Cribl’s deals were announced now, right in the middle of a broad startup downturn.

We know that large rounds can take time to get both closed and disclosed, meaning that Monte Carlo’s and Cribl’s Series D rounds might reflect the state of the market a few weeks ago. But there’s a more recent data point to take into account: hiring, which is still happening.

On one side of the table, companies are still filling the kind of positions that create demand for data quality solutions. “Despite the volatility, data engineers and analytics jobs are increasing and companies are continuing to hire at record numbers for these roles,” Moses told TechCrunch. On the other, data observability startups themselves are hiring. Not just unicorns like Cribl and Monte Carlo, but also competitors like seed-funded startup Sifflet.

Could data observability be recession-proof? To find out, we talked to Moses, as well as Sifflet CEO Salma Bakouk. To complete their firsthand knowledge, we collected notes from two investors familiar with the spaceFirstMark partner Matt Turck and Data Community Fund general partner Pete Soderling.

The picture that emerged from our conversations is that tailwinds for the data observability category as a whole might not translate into wins for each and every startup in the space. Why? Let’s explore.

Rising with the data tide

When we mention tailwinds for data observability, it’s because demand is driven by a broader trend. TL;DR: More and more companies are becoming data-driven, and therefore facing the kind of data quality issues that data observability startups are made to address.

Sizing a growing opportunity is never easy, but in our conversations, we heard that data obs could soon be …read more


Lionsgate plans to officially announce a Starz spinoff this summer

Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer revealed details during an investor call on Thursday, May 26, about the company’s plans to spin off its Starz streaming unit by the end of the summer. He also alluded that there could be more M&A (Mergers and Acquisitions) for both Lionsgate and Starz if the two were separated.

Feltheimer said, “We are targeting an announcement of our plan by the end of the summer and expect a transaction could close as early as our fiscal fourth quarter.” He added that the company is engaged in conversations with bankers and “a number of potential strategic partners.”

Although he did not disclose who these possible partners were, the confirmation follows earlier reports. In an earnings call back in the fall of 2021, the company announced it was exploring strategic options for the cable network and streamer as it failed to provide a boost for Lionsgate. One solution was to sell all or a part of the asset could unlock value. Michael Burns, Lionsgate’s COO said, “While we continue to realize substantial synergies from bringing Lionsgate and Starz together. We also see the opportunity to potentially unlock significant shareholder value under a scenario where investors had the ability to value our studio assets and Starz separately.”

Feltheimer noted last week that the expectation right now is that Lionsgate will retain some ownership stake in Starz, but “anything can happen,” he said. DirecTV is among many media companies looking to purchase a stake, along with Roku and Apollo Global Management, who have teamed up on a bid. Another potential suitor is Canal+, a division of French conglomerate Vivendi.

Lionsgate acquired Starz in 2016 for $4.4 billion, and over time, has steadily grown its customer base, which grew by 4.8 million for the quarter, reaching a total of 35.8 million. The CEO boasted during last week’s call that they predict Starz to hit 50 million to 60 million global subscribers (TV and streaming) by the end of fiscal 2025. The healthy numbers are another reason why Lionsgate is choosing this moment to send Starz out on its own.

Feltheimer emphasized that Starz is not aiming to compete with bigger streaming rivals but keeping it as a niche, ad-free service to be “layered” on top of them.

While Starz has strong content, the new company will certainly require support from other partners to succeed. We will have to wait to see which company believes that Starz has enough value to cough up the necessary costs.

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Pulse Oximeters Are Less Accurate Among Black, Hispanic and Asian Covid-19 Patients

The devices flag low oxygen levels more reliably in white patients, according to a study. …read more


The Jonas Brothers help launch Scriber, a creator subscription company


The creator economy is “burning up,” and the Jonas Brothers are cashing in.

Launching today with the help of these former teen heartthrobs, Scriber is a creator subscription company geared toward more established figures in entertainment (… like the Jonas Brothers). Joe, Kevin and Nick aren’t just Scriber’s first creators — they also have equity in the company.

Besides catering to more established artists, Scriber differentiates itself from other creator subscription products by functioning solely via SMS. The creator will post a phone number on their social media platforms for fans to text, and after messaging that number, fans can pay a subscription fee via Apple Pay or Stripe to get exclusive content sent to their phone. For this launch with the JoBros, fans will pay $4.99 a month, but the service is only available in the U.S. right now.

Since Scriber is not an app on the App Store, the platform doesn’t have to pay fees to Apple or Google Play. Instead, creators pay Scriber $1 per month for each subscriber (so if they have 10,000 subscribers, they pay $10,000). The creator also covers Stripe’s 2.9% processing fee.

App Store fees have been a major pain point for creator-focused startups. Fanhouse, for example, instituted a coin system to circumvent Apple’s 30% cut — fans buy coins on the web, then use them in the app to subscribe to creators (they can also pay via the app, but they’ll be charged extra to cover the fees).

Scriber creators retain rights to the content that they upload, and the platform tries to protect the exclusive material from leaking by giving each subscriber a unique link to view uploads. So, if they share that link online, Scriber can easily figure out the source of the leak. This may not help in the case of screen recording and re-uploading videos, though.

Scriber comes courtesy of journalist-turned-entrepreneur Brian Goldsmith, who is serving as CEO and providing most of the startup capital. According to a report from Axios, Goldsmith says he hopes that the already-wealthy celebrities he partners with will use the platform to raise money for philanthropy. The Jonas Brothers are planning to donate about half of their earnings to causes they care about.

This isn’t the Jonas Brothers’ first rodeo when it comes to startups and investments. The three musicians invested in Snackpass, a social food app, and OLIPOP, a celebrity-backed sparkling tonic company.

Kevin Jonas is a founder himself — he launched Yood, a now-defunct food app, and The Blu Market, an influencer marketing company.


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